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Egypt Detains 'Scores' After Resort Blasts

LIANE HANSEN, host:

NPR's Peter Kenyon has been following the story from the Cairo, and he joins us now.

Peter, what are the investigators saying about the bombings?

PETER KENYON reporting:

Well, first, Liane, the investigators are saying not much in public. But from talking with officials who've been briefed, it looks like scores of people have already been detained, mostly there in Sharm el-Sheikh and further north on the Sinai.

Egypt's Interior Ministry said there are some clues from at least one of the cars suggesting similarities with the Taba bombings last fall. In that case, thousands of people were arrested and human rights groups are still complaining about those mass arrests and about allegations of torture.

HANSEN: Well, what about the conflicting claims of responsibility for the bombings? What do you make of that? And what do you know of the groups that have so far been making these claims?

KENYON: The conflicting claims are not resolved and very little is known about those specific groups. But officials and analysts that I've talked to say there are signs that could point to this case being a local--that is, Egyptian--effort of terrorism. This weekend happens to be the anniversary of Egypt's nationalist revolution that led to the banning of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood in the 1950s.

On the other hand, other analysts are saying there are similarities between these bombings and some of those in other countries that suggest some level of coordination, or at least shared expertise. The modus operandi was similar in some cases; several bombs timed together, soft targets, civilian areas, often public transit or tourist sites, sometimes by suicide bombers. These links are turning up between these bombings, but it's not clear how solid they are yet, officials say. In the case of Sharm el-Sheikh, one question is whether Osama bin Laden's deputy, Egyptian Ayman Zawahiri, had any role in ordering the attack.

But I should note, though, that one Egyptian analyst I spoke with said whether or not it's an international, al-Qaeda directed effort or not, one result could further the aims of al-Qaeda, at least as he sees it, to drive a wedge of fear and mistrust between Western governments and societies and the Muslims living in their midst.

HANSEN: Peter, this is an election year in Egypt. What impact will the Sharm el-Sheikh bombings have on President Mubarak, who hasn't really said he's running yet, and his likely challengers?

KENYON: Well, coincidentally, Egyptians were wondering if President Mubarak might use this holiday weekend to announce his re-election plans. Analysts say if he were considering retirement, which they doubt, this bombing probably ensured that he will stand for his first competitive re-election. And if Egyptians are fearful in the wake of the Sharm el-Sheikh bombings, that will likely help him if he needed any help.

As for the challengers, the analysts I spoke with says this poses more problems than they already had. These attacks make their efforts to be heard, to focus public attention on domestic reform issues that much harder because Mubarak and his ruling National Democratic Party are well practiced in making the case that they are the only thing standing between Egypt and an Islamic state. So I think as this investigation unfolds, the question will be where do people come down on their fear about future terrorist attacks and the health of the economy or the need for reform.

HANSEN: NPR's Peter Kenyon in Cairo. Peter, thank you very much.

KENYON: You're welcome, Liane. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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